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Russian-born artist does regal work at Laguna festival

Russian-born artist does regal work at Laguna festival
Marita Holton, who was born and raised in St. Petersburg, Russia, quit her engineering job this year to devote full time to her art business, AristoKrown, for which she makes custom crowns, tiaras and other headpieces. She is exhibiting at Laguna Beach’s Winter Fantasy. (Photo by David Hansen)

Everyone needs a crown.

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Maybe it’s private, symbolic or hidden away with childhood, but the desire for specialness is a universal trait.

Laguna Beach artist Marita Holton firmly believes that. At Laguna’s Winter Fantasy, she creates custom headpieces for people around the world — all wanting to feel regal.

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Holton knows the feeling. The native Russian has aristocratic blood. Her grandfather was sent to Siberia after the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917 — and with it the end of tsars — and never returned.

“He was born outside of Russia, and … if you’re outside of Russia, you’re a traitor,” Holton said. “Without any reason they could accuse you of anything.

“He was rehabilitated later, of course, but he was already gone, like shot somewhere in Siberia. So my grandmother had to raise the children by herself.”

Despite the dramatic history, it wasn’t often talked about in the family, Holton said.

“It was discussed very little because everything in Russia was prohibited, including religion,” she said.

Holton relied on her grandmother’s stories. With everything taken by the regime, nearly all they had were stories.

“I still have my grandmother’s ring she gave me, and inside it’s stamped with a little crown,” she said. “I have it on my finger. I never take it off.”

Holton took refuge in the cultural education of St. Petersburg, where she was born and raised. During her childhood, of course, it was called Leningrad. The name was changed back to St. Petersburg in 1991.

“The Russian nation is very cultural, so we would go to theater performance every week,” Holton said. “And ballets — you would never miss a ballet in Russia.”

Her father was a singer-songwriter and her mother worked in business. She hesitated to call her upbringing “middle class,” because the term is relative.

“We had no poor or rich people. It was all one level,” she said.

The family had a car, which was a bit of a luxury. Most people took public transportation.

She was fascinated by dolphins and dreamed of becoming a marine biologist.

Instead, she became an architect because she was good at drawing. With a master’s degree in architecture, she left Russia for a job in Israel, where she lived for more than four years.

She has two children and speaks four languages: Russian, German, Hebrew and now English.

She continued her architecture work in the United States in 1996, first in Long Beach, then Westminster. After 9/11, there was a sharp decline in the architecture field, so she switched to engineering.

While engineering paid the bills, it wasn’t as interesting for her.

She eventually found herself roaming around Laguna Beach, drawn to the lifestyle and creativity. A couple of years ago she walked into a gallery, Drizzle Art, owned by Robert Holton.

“I always liked Laguna. One day I walked into Robert’s gallery and met him,” she said. “We started dating and we got married two years after.”

The wedding started Marita’s quest for the perfect headpiece. She couldn’t find one she liked, so she created her own.

The result is AristoKrown, her boutique business. She makes custom crowns, tiaras, headbands, hair combs, hair pins and other accessories.

Robert had already been exhibiting at the Sawdust Art & Craft Festival, so Marita started helping out. It was not long before she landed her own booth.

“When you work all your life for someone else, you have to have courage to leave your job,” said Marita, who quit her engineering job this year.

The artists at the Sawdust Festival gave her the courage to change her life, reminding her in many ways of the idealism of her youth.

“It’s why I called my company AristoKrowns, because I wanted to have this connection and bridge,” she said.

She is still getting used to being a full-time artist but knows it was the right thing to do.

“It was a little scary. It’s still scary,” she said. “I didn’t get satisfaction from my job. Now in my studio it’s completely different work. I forget to eat sometimes. Robert calls me and asks, ‘Did you eat? Did you eat?’ ”

Being somewhat shy and reserved, she admits to not being a great salesperson at her booth at Sawdust’s Winter Fantasy, which runs weekends until Dec. 16. But she’s working on it.

It’s easy, she said, once people put on a headpiece and smile. All she has to do is tell them the truth: They look beautiful.

“When you create something, it’s not how it makes you feel,” she said. “I think it’s how it makes other people feel.”

David Hansen is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at hansen.dave@gmail.com.

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